I’ll tell you a story
Today, we highlight a new trend in sustainability reporting: Reporters using case studies and personal stories to bring their sustainability reports to life. For example, the multinational chemistry company Clariant has just published its 2016 sustainability report. The report presents the sustainability views of six Clariant employees from Europe by asking them the question: “What does sustainability mean for your professional life and how does it affect your daily routine?”
Rolf Schwery, GRI certified trainer and sustainability expert, was interviewed for his opinion:
What do you think about the new trend to ‘pimp-up’ sustainability reports with personal stories from employees, customers and other stakeholders?
We can clearly observe in recent years a clear trend that sustainability reporters have been making efforts to make their reports more attractive to appeal to a broader audience: Be it staff insights, as we can see in Clariant’s sustainability report, emotional stories from patients benefitting from a life saving drug, or case studies from community projects.
Interestingly, there is a now a conflict between the aim to make a report as short as possible and making it reader-friendly. Many organisations go for the second and don’t concern themselves overly by the number of pages, as the reports are online and often not printed at all anyway.
Do these stories not contradict the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or ISO26000 standards?
On first impressions it does not seem to contradict the principles of the GRI or ISO standards. Of course, the question as to whether these reports are still balanced may be raised. Often they cover only positive stories and ignore negative experiences. However, with the development of the GRI Standards 2016, there is a clear encouragement to make the reports more reader-friendly.
The reports which are in accordance with GRI have to follow a certain procedure to identify the stakeholders, define the material topics and report on them according to the requirements set forth in the standards. To add personal stories is not required, but it is also not forbidden.
What would you advise to a client that wishes to use personal stories in their sustainability reports?
We very much welcome the trend to use new approaches to make sustainability reporting more ‘sexy’. Personal stories can contribute to that as well as live images, interviews etc. It’s important for us that the stories are carefully selected and follow a clear scientific-based procedure. We would avoid leading questions in the interviews, for example, and ensure that the stories are real and representative of the broad scope of ideas and opinions.
In addition, we would advise to distinguish them clearly as stories and separate them from the general reporting sections in colour style or format. The stories should not prevent the interested reader from finding the particular information he or she seeks.